bible belt_n

The “Bible Belt” Is Also Known as What?


Reza Aslan promotes himself, demonizes atheists, and exaggerates his credentials

reza-a-aslan2011

MuslimCartoon100

Once again Heather Hastie, at her website Heather’s Homilies, has saved me from the wearisome task of writing about Reza Aslan.  Her latest post takes apart Aslan’s recent article in Salon, “Reza Aslan: Sam Harris and ‘New Atheists’ aren’t new, aren’t even atheists.” Read Aslan’s post if you can stand it, and then Heather’s, as Heather went to a lot of trouble dismantling Aslans’s claim that new atheists, unlike old ones, are “anti-theists,” bent on ridding society of religion (tell that to Ingersoll and Mencken!), and his argument that people like Harris and Dawkins want to remove religion from society, using violence if necessary.

Aslan’s article differed from his usual screeds in that he tried to summarize the history of atheism in a semi-scholarly way, even though it’s tendentious and, argues Heather, misleading. I suspect Aslan’s new “scholarly” tone comes from his being caught out trying to claim that he’s a religious scholar with a Ph.D. in religious studies.  He has in fact repeatedly distorted his credentials, obscuring the fact that he’s an associate professor in creative writing at the University of California Riverside, and that his doctorate is in sociology (granted, it’s on the idea of jihad). He even appears to have lied, claiming that he’s affiliated with a department of religion at Riverside.

One critique of his credentials, “The lies and misrepresentations of Reza Aslan,” written by by Majid Rafizadeh, was published in August of last year in the right-wing magazine Front Page. A quote or two:

First of all, Reza Aslan has continuously presented himself as a professor of religion. This is done in an attempt to sell his few books, which lack academic and credible references. In one of his recent interviews, Aslan claims, “I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament . . . I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions . . . I am a professor of religions, including the New Testament – that’s what I do for a living, actually . . . To be clear, I want to emphasize one more time, I am a historian, I am a Ph.D. in the history of religions.” Aslan also recently said on Twitter, “I have a BA, MA and PhD in the history of Western Religions so yes, again, I am an ACTUAL expert in Judaism.”

. . . although Reza Aslan calls himself a “historian,” he has never attainted a degree or had professional training in history, and has never even taken an elementary course in historiography for that matter. His dissertation focuses on the events and movements of the twentieth century and does not apply any historical methods or archival research. In addition, his dissertation is also an abnormally short one – approximately 130 pages double-spaced – which seems to have been written for publicity purposes for his book, Beyond Fundamentalism. Reza Aslan has been exploiting the situation in the United States after 9/11 to self-promote and make profits through these exaggerations and fabrications.

Well, you can dismiss that if you want because it’s a passionate piece in a right-leaning journal. (I don’t think it’s kosher, though, to ignore arguments simply because they’re published in such places.) But you can’t so easily dismiss a piece by Manuel Roig-Franzia in The Washington Post, also published in August of 2013 (this was right after Aslan’s book on Jesus, Zealot, was published). An excerpt from that:

Aslan, who has an undergraduate degree in religious studies and a master’s in theological studies, is not currently a professor of religion or history. He is an associate professor in the creative writing department of the University of California at Riverside. He has asserted a present-day toehold in the field of religion by saying he is “a cooperative faculty member” in Riverside’s Department of Religious Studies.

Yet this is not so, according to Vivian-Lee Nyitray, the just-retired chair of the department. Nyitray says she discussed the possibility last year with Aslan but that he has not been invited to become a cooperative faculty member, a status that would allow him to chair dissertations in her former department.

The Post piece lauds Aslan’s absorbing narrative (with neither Aslan nor Roig-Ranzia ever questioning whether Jesus really existed), but does question his scholarship:

Dale Martin, a Yale University religious studies professor who reviewed Aslan’s “Zealot” for the New York Times, sees Aslan’s characterization of his credentials in a different light. “I think he overplayed his hand,” Martin says of Aslan in an interview. “He’s just overselling.” Martin, who has praise for Aslan’s writing skills, was critical of his seeming reliance on the work of previous scholars to formulate one of the central theories of his book: that Jesus was a revolutionary executed because he posed a political threat to the Roman Empire.

“The record needs to be corrected,” Martin says. “Both about his credentials and his thesis.”

Of course what Aslan claims about Jesus or Islam should be judged independently of his credentials, and I’m not a big fan of assessing someone’s competence in academia from simply looking at their degrees. But Aslan’s repeated distortions of his credentials is worrisome, and should make us wonder about his motivations. Yet even leaving that aside, I am aware of the distortions about Islam in Aslan’s first book, and I’m not convinced of the historicity of Jesus in his second.

Aslan is an apologist for faith, and in his own way is just as dangerous as Karen Armstrong. If he had his way, we’d write off the misdeeds of jihadists as “distorted faith,” and simply accept religion in general, and Islam in particular, as a good thing.  That would be a mistake.

And who needs ipecac if you can listen to Krista Tippett interviewing Aslan at her National Public Radio (NPR, also know as “Numinous Public Relations”) show “On Being.” (Hit “play episode” at the upper right.) Here we have the most unctuous promoter of faith on public radio osculating the most unctuous promoter of faith in popular books. They really need to get a room, as Tippett just lobs hearts and softball questions at Aslan.  Truly, I wonder why she has a gig on NPR. (Don’t answer that; I know they’re soft on faith.)

Note that Aslan claims that the “Islamic Reformation” is already under way, something that seems to contradict his first book on Islam, which implicitly argued that it was reformed at the beginning (and hence some sects have degenerated). In Aslan’s view, the violence of Muslims is simply an inevitable byproduct of its reformation, and we should be “excited” about it all.

At 29:20, they both discuss New Atheism, with Tippett complaining that although atheism has moved on, the New Atheists still get all the attention. Tippett and Aslan then agree that New Atheists give atheism a bad name (something she’d never say about faith), and Aslan longs for the “good old atheists” like Schopenhauer, people who, Tippett says, were “constructive,” as opposed to the New Atheists, who “tear things down.” (What?) Aslan also argues that New Atheists say that believers are “stupid” and that religion must be “forcibly removed from society.” That’s just wrong. In this segment, more than I’ve ever heard before, we see how deeply Tippett believes in belief, and it’s not pretty.

When I hear this kind of stuff, and get disheartened about it, I remind myself that the whole religious enterprise is based on fiction, and, in the end, will largely disappear from our world. We just won’t be around when that happens.


Brian Toohey: Australian schools about to get biblical

Catholic fanatics_n

Australia’s federal government is set to adopt a review of the school curriculum that will severely cut back content about Asia and explicitly celebrate what it calls the nation’s “Judeo-Christian heritage, values and beliefs.”

Following recommendations of a review panel, the government has said it will “properly recognize the impact and significance of Western civilization” in classrooms. The new focus even extends to a proposal to scrap all computer literacy classes.

What do you know?

The changes reflect the views of Education Minister Christopher Pyne, who commissioned the review after the ruling conservative Liberal/National party coalition replaced Labor in 2013. To conduct the review, Pyne chose two academics renowned for ardently supporting Pyne’s overall approach.

Like Pyne, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is a devout Catholic who had earlier championed changes to ensure that history classes no longer “underplay” Australia’s Western heritage. The reviewers endorsed Abbott’s claim that it is “impossible” to have a good education without a “serious familiarity” with the Bible. They seemed unaware that many Confucian and Hindu scholars, for example, manage to become reasonably well-educated without even a nodding acquaintance with Christianity’s sacred texts.

There should be no mistaking Abbott’s determination. The High Court, Australia’s supreme legal authority, has twice rejected the constitutional validity of his government’s appointment of Christian chaplains to all government-run schools. But Abbott is pressing ahead with a revised legal tactic, despite some states’ preferences for properly trained, secular counselors.

Looking West

The desire to stress Australia’s Judeo-Christian heritage is particularly difficult to understand in the context of an increasingly diverse, multicultural society. The latest survey shows only 8% of Australians went to church at least once a month in 2011, compared with 36% in 1972. Although many of the initial settlers from Britain and Ireland (including transported convicts) called themselves Christians, Australia chose to establish a secular political system.

Contrary to the views of some conservatives, its laws are not derived from the Bible’s Ten Commandments. Moreover, many observers argue that the inhabitants of today’s turbulent world would benefit from less emphasis on the superiority of a particular religion’s “heritage, values and beliefs.”

The review’s official adviser on the English curriculum is Barry Spurr, a poetry professor of the University of Sydney whose specialization is Blessed Mary imagery in poetry. In line with Spurr’s approach, the review recommends that the curriculum put greater emphasis on the “Western literary cannon, especially poetry,” and much less on Asian and other literary texts in the existing curriculum.

Spurr gained unwanted publicity when the University of Sydney suspended him in October after the online site New Matilda revealed elements of allegedly “racist and sexist” emails he had sent. Despite what others saw as a repugnant tone, Spurr said he was being “whimsical” and claimed his email account had been hacked.

What is not in dispute is that Spurr’s written advice to the review said he could find no good examples of Asian writing. The comment is absurd, even leaving aside literary prize winners from Asia, such as India’s Aravind Adiga, author of “The White Tiger,” which won the U.K.’s prestigious Man Booker Prize in 2008. Pyne was forced to distance himself from Spurr’s emails but is still enthusiastic about the curriculum changes.

Words versus action

The new curriculum also favors the traditions of English law that Australia inherited. Few would object to this. But this legacy is currently being eroded by claims of national security risks, something the review fails to acknowledge. Abbott and Pyne have backed the imposition of draconian legal changes in Australia, where detention without charge is allowed in some instances under anti-terrorism legislation. In other cases, the onus of proof has shifted from the prosecution to the defense. Journalists, whistleblowers and others who reveal abuses of power by the intelligence services and police during security operations can now face five to 10 years in jail. A “publication is in the public interest” law that had protected these truth-tellers was abolished in October.

While few Australians want a school system exclusively devoted to serving the economy, the new concepts are so rarefied as to be meaningless for parents, students and policymakers. They endorse the 20th-century British philosopher Michael Oakeshott’s definition of education as an extension of a “conversation [that] began in the primal forests.” Oakeshott went on to say, “It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, … or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian.”

Given the review’s evident contempt for “student-centered” learning, it is not clear how students in Australia (or Asia) could be motivated to participate in this high-minded “conversation,” let alone learn much about how to reason or make discoveries about the world.

Brian Toohey is a Sydney-based commentator on defense, economic and political issues, and was editor of the former National Times. He is co-author of “Oyster: The Story of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.”

This Week in Religion: Revisionist History, the Hitler Card and Pat Robertson on Speed

The religious right said some more ridiculous and repellent things this week.

Photo Credit: Wonderland/Flickr

If you are not a big fan of U.S. history, fear not, because the State of Texas may decide to rewrite American history and make it more, well, Christian.

The Texas Board of Education will vote whether or not to approve historical changes to its textbooks as put forward by Christian pseudo-historian David Barton. Among Barton’s proposed changes would be inflating the impact Judeo-Christian beliefs had among the founding fathers, a historical exclusion of most non-Christian religions, and using some offensive and outdated anthropological racial terms to describe African civilization

This comes months after a heated Texas Board of Education battle to remove evolution from science textbooks, which even led to board members attempting back-alley deals with book publishers.

The vote was originally scheduled for earlier in the week, but was delayed according to the Christian Science Monitor:

“The board, comprised of 10 Republicans and five Democrats, has asked publishers to make changes critics have demanded. Still, the board wasn’t able to get preliminary approval of the books, setting them up for a high-stakes final vote Friday, when the board will approve the books or else miss the deadline to get them to the state’s 1,000-plus school districts by September 2015.”

These devastating changes could keep Texas students from gaining a proper social science education. This ruling could also apply to those states forced to buy the same books Texas orders. As the saying goes, as goes the leader so goes the nation.

Earlier this month, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss postulated that it could only take a single generation of critical thinkers to wipe out religious belief. Speaking at an event in Australia, Krauss said:

“People say, ‘Well, religion has been around since the dawn of man. You’ll never change that.’ But I point out that… this issue of gay marriage, it is going to go away, because if you have a child, a 13-year-old, they can’t understand what the issue is. It’s gone. One generation is all it takes.”

This caused Ray Comfort, a creationist and host of the online Christian talk show “The Comfort Zone,” to go off the rails and compare Krauss to Adolf Hitler.

Comfort’s co-host Emeal Zwayne pointed out that Krauss does not seem to be a big fan of Christianity.

“Just the glee that he got from the thought of eradicating religion — and it’s not religion, he hates Christianity,” Zwayne said. “He hates Christ….”

“Hitler said some similar things. Hitler’s Youth,” Comfort replied.

“And that’s exactly what I was going to say it was reminiscent of,” Zwayne said to viewers. “Very, very terrifying, friends.”

Playing the Hitler card or Godwin’s Law, as it is also called, is usually a sign of a foundering argument. When you are backed against a wall and see no logical way out, playing the Hitler card is an attempt to demonize your opponent. You have to wonder if these radical Christians have finally realized that their back is against a wall and they cannot reason their way back into reality.

The next time you get pulled over for speeding, tell the nice police officer God said it was OK with him. That is, according to Pat Robertson of the television ministry “The 700 Club.”

When a viewer asked Robertson if her husband was sinning when he drove over the speed limit, the host replied: “You’re asking a guy that had a Corvette with a 430 horsepower engine, who is now driving a car that has about a 650 horsepower engine.” Robertson laughed. “Who also drove 30 laps around the Charlotte Motor Speedway in a stock car.”

“I don’t get tickets, I pay attention,” he continued. “But there was one night up in the mountains, when it wasn’t anybody around a four-lane highway late at night, and I did get that little bug up a little over 200mph.”

Robertson then corrected his statement, saying he was only doing 100mph (only the most exotic of sportscars can eclipse 200mph), and then continued to contemplate whether speeding was a sin.

“Is it a sin? I think it’s a sin to hurt somebody,” said Robertson. “I think it’s a sin to drive recklessly….If your driving imperils other people, you are sinning, there’s no question about it.”

Apparently, driving at illegal and possibly dangerous speeds is fine as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Which is equal to shooting a gun into a crowd of people and not hitting anyone. It’s not a sin unless you hit someone. And it’s not a sin if you’re the one who’s imperiled.

Robertson closed the conversation by noting, “don’t imperil anybody else with the way you drive a car, and be careful.”

Dan Arel is the author of Parenting Without God and blogs at Danthropology. Follow him on Twitter @danarel.

Why You Don’t Have The Right to Die?

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Humour
Tags:

No One Should Have The Right To Die Until God Is Done Toying With Them

By Amy Foster

Life is a sacred gift from God. He decided that we should be born and, when the time comes, He decides that we should pass on from this world. We should be grateful for whatever precious moments He gives us—and no one, not even the terminally ill, has the right to die until God is done toying with them.

It doesn’t matter how sick you are. You don’t get to die until God messes with you for a while first.

Who are we to tamper with God’s plan? Who are we to say that our suffering has become too unbearable to go on living when God—who’s just looking for a little amusement—has weeks, months, or even years of agony lined up for us? Seriously, what kind of person ends his life before God’s batted him around a bit? He made us. He deserves a little fun.

Thing is, it’s not up to us when we’ve had enough sickness. We don’t get to choose when we’d rather not exist with Huntington’s disease or a brain tumor. Oh, sure, we might feel ready to die, but for all we know, God has literally decades of chronic pain, dramatic weight fluctuations, and debilitating fatigue in store for us, mixed in with some occasional good days and maybe even some false hope for recovery—it’s up to Him how long He’d like to be entertained by our helpless struggles. You see, God wants to take us on a ride—a wild, scary ride that He probably really enjoys watching from above—before finishing us off, and we have no right to slam the brakes.

Let’s say you’re 50 and have cancer. You’re not entitled to just stop battling and die at a place and time of your choosing. Cancer is God’s playground! If you ended your life at 50, do you have any idea how many promising stages of remission and soul-crushing relapses God would miss out on? Sorry, but this is going to take as long as the Almighty wants it to take. But the good news is, He always gets bored sooner or later.

And once He’s done jerking you around, then you’ll get that death you want so much.

You may think you’ve had enough of this world, that there’s no reason to go on anymore. But for all you know, God’s going to let you get better for a while so you can experience some more professional ups and downs and a disappointing second marriage before bringing you back around to your crippling illness years later. He may want to take you to the edge of bankruptcy a couple of times, or—who knows?—He might want you to struggle with someone else’s death. Maybe more than one person. I mean, this is why God made us to begin with.

Life can be hard. It can be painful. But that doesn’t change the fact that God created us and the world we walk on, and He gets to play with us for as long as He wants and until He’s tired of it. That may hurt to hear, but at least there’s one thing you can take comfort in.

It’ll all be over eventually.


Moses & God’s Ass

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a story in the Old Testament that many of you know involving Moses and God’s ass. It’s never quite presented like that in church, but that seems to be what it’s about.

In Exodus 33, Moses is chatting with God “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (v. 11) and he gets the great idea to ask God:

“Show me your glory, I pray.”

Kinky. But God isn’t quite into that, and says:

“You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”

Which wasn’t quite what Moses asked, but God wanted to make a scary point to his BFF.

A few verses before said Moses talked “face to face” with God, but now God says Moses can’t see his face. God should either make up his mind or those scribes should have reconsidered using “face to face,” because it’s a bit inconsistent.

Regardless, God continues (this time in good old KJV):

“Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by , that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by : And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.”

There you have it, folks. Even if you’re God’s friend, you can’t see his face, but you can see his ass. Now if someone could just find it, we’d finally have some evidence for God’s existence.


Atheism explodes in Saudi Arabia, despite state-enforced ban

In the “cradle of Islam,” a growing number of people are quietly declaring themselves nonbelievers
Caryle Murphy, GlobalPost

Atheism explodes in Saudi Arabia, despite state-enforced ban

Worshippers outside of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (Credit: Associated Press)

Global Post JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — In this country known as the cradle of Islam, where religion gives legitimacy to the government and state-appointed clerics set rules for social behavior, a growing number of Saudis are privately declaring themselves atheists.

The evidence is anecdotal, but persistent.

“I know at least six atheists who confirmed that to me,” said Fahad AlFahad, 31, a marketing consultant and human rights activist. “Six or seven years ago, I wouldn’t even have heard one person say that. Not even a best friend would confess that to me.”

A Saudi journalist in Riyadh has observed the same trend.

“The idea of being irreligious and even atheist is spreading because of the contradiction between what Islamists say and what they do,” he said.

The perception that atheism is no longer a taboo subject — at least two Gulf-produced television talk shows recently discussed it — may explain why the government has made talk of atheism a terrorist offense. The March 7 decree from the Ministry of Interior prohibited, among other things, “calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

The number of people willing to admit to friends to being atheist or to declare themselves atheist online, usually under aliases, is certainly not big enough to be a movement or threaten the government. A 2012 poll by WIN-Gallup International of about 500 Saudis found that 5 percent described themselves as “convinced atheist.” This was well below the global average of 13 percent.

But the greater willingness to privately admit to being atheist reflects a general disillusionment with religion and what one Saudi called “a growing notion” that religion is being misused by authorities to control the population. This disillusionment is seen in a number of ways, ranging from ignoring clerical pronouncements to challenging and even mocking religious leaders on social media.

“Because people are becoming more disillusioned with the government, they started looking at the government and its support groups as being in bed together and conspiring together against the good of the people,” said Bassim Alim, a lawyer in Jeddah.

“When they see the ulema [religious scholars] appeasing the government,” he added, “people become dismayed because they thought they were pious and straightforward and just. “

“I believe people started being fed up with how religion is really controlling their life and how only one interpretation of religion should be followed,” said activist Fahad AlFahad.

Together, the appearance of atheists, a growing wariness of religious controls on society, as well as the continuing lure of jihad and ultraconservatism signal a breakdown in the conformity and consensus that has marked the Saudi religious field in the recent past. It is becoming a more heterogenous and polarized faith scene.

“The mosques are full but society is losing its values. It’s more like a mechanical practice, like going church, you have to go on Sunday,” said a former employee of state media. “We no longer understand our religion, not because we don’t want to. But because our vision of it, our understanding of it, has been polluted by the monarchy…[and]…by the official religious establishment that only measures religion by what the monarchy wants and what pleases the monarchy.”

The growing skepticism about religion and clerics is more visible nowadays because of social media outlets, including tweets, blogs and Facebook pages.

Here are three illustrative tweets from Saudis:

— Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahad has been tweeting nonstop abt God. I pity his disconnectedness from today’s public. It’s not the 1980′s. Pathetic

— Because our illusion that our version of Islam is the only correct one needs to be washed away

— Could the ulema issue a fatwa against domestic violence? I mean the fatwa committee has prohibited playing Resident Evil

At the same time, however, there is a countervailing trend in that some young Saudis are joining radical Islamist and jihadi movements, a trend reinforced by the war in Syria.

“When the Arab Spring started, young religious people were asking about Islam and democracy,” said Saud Al Sarhan, director of research at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh. “But now they are just asking about Islam and jihad, after what is going on in Syria.”

This attraction towards militant ultraconservatism is also apparent in the activities of unregulated religious vigilantes. Even as the government’s own religious police have come under stricter controls, these bands of young religious “volunteers” attack social gatherings to stop what they deem as prohibited activities, including music, dancing and gender mixing. In one famous incident in 2012, these “volunteers” raided the annual government-sponsored cultural festival known as Janadriya, where they clashed with security forces.

It is still dangerous to publicly admit one is an atheist because of the dire punishment one can face from a court system based on sharia, which regards disbelief in God as a capital offense.

In addition, conservative clerics who have considerable sway among Saudis, use the label ‘atheist’ to discredit those who question their strict interpretations of Islamic scriptures or express doubts about the dominant version of Islam known as Wahhabism.

That is what happened with 25-year-old Hamza Kashgari who in 2012 tweeted some unconventional thoughts about Prophet Muhammad, none of which indicated he did not believe in God. Still, he was called ‘atheist’ and to appease the religious establishment, the government jailed him for 20 months.

Also, Raef Badawi, in his early 30s, was accused of being atheist because he called for freedom to discuss other versions of Islam besides Wahhabism on the website “Free Saudi Liberals.” Badawi was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes in July 2013. His lawyer, Waleed Abu Alkhair, a human rights activist who also has been jailed, said Badawi told the court that he was a Muslim but added that “everyone has a choice to believe or not believe,” the BBC reported.

A Riyadh resident who has extensive contacts with young Saudis because of his job in higher education said that he “tries to warn young people that they are living according to an Islam constructed by the government, and not according to the Islam given us by God.”

Increasingly, he said, some youths “are going to ignore religion and become atheist, while others are going to understand the game.”


%d bloggers like this: